Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Size Does Matter

With gas prices staying around $3, small is the new black for cars... or something like that; the WaPo has the details from an article last week that I just got tipped to from the EuroTrib blog:

John Mathews of Universal Toyota in San Antonio has witnessed the day that auto industry executives in Detroit said would never come.

"We are seeing people who are driving $40,000 Suburbans trading them in on $15,000 Corollas," said Mathews, who manages a dealership in a state where big trucks and sport-utility vehicles rule the roads. "The last 30 days have been unlike anything I've ever seen in the automotive industry."

Even in hurricane-addled Alabama, people pouring in from Louisiana and Mississippi are popping into Treadwell Honda looking for replacements for destroyed cars. Harold Wesley, a salesman, in the midst of fielding calls last week, said he can't keep Civics on the lot -- new or used. "As soon as the new ones get here, they are sold." Wesley said the manufacturer is allocating dealers a few at a time to be fair. Treadwell's last shipment of 12 sold in three days, he said.
While small car sales are helping to lift the Japanese automakers, Detroit's General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are sinking under the weight of large sport-utility vehicles, once the industry's cash cows. The two automakers have reported substantial slides in profits in their North American operations this year, and their bonds have junk status on Wall Street. The interest in small cars has caught the two automakers unprepared, said Dave Healy, an auto industry analyst at Burnham Securities Inc. in New York.

For the Big Three, Healy said, investment followed profit margins. "As long as the SUV segment was doing well, they poured money into that and neglected small cars," Healy said. "At that time you could have made a very good case that it was giving the public what it wants."


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